Summary / Abstract

Title: The rules of the game: teenagers communicating about sex

Synopsis: The present study examined the rules used by 16-year-olds ( n =191) to guide theirbehaviours during a sexual encounter. Boys and girls were asked about social rules for giving messages indicating that they did ordid not wish to have sex, and strategies for encouraging or avoiding sex, together with the acceptability and usefulness of thesestrategies. They were also asked if they had used any of the strategies. A variety of rules were endorsed and young people found iteasier to encourage than to discourage sex. There were few differences between boys and girls in their understanding of the rulesbut the relationships between acceptability, usefulness and actual use of a strategy varied according to gender. For the avoidancestrategies the relationships were moderate but stronger for girls, whereas patterns of relationships were strong across allencouragement strategies and equally so for boys and girls. The findings are discussed in the context of divergence between theseyoung people's rhetoric of equality and their lived reality. sex, girls, boys, rules, usefulness, acceptability, communicating, gender, behaviours, encouraging, encouragement, avoiding sex, sexual encounter, Peart, adolescents, avoidance strategies, understanding, teenagers communicating, respondents, discourage sex, sexual coercion, unwanted sex, associations, strategy varied according, game teenagers communicating, negotiation, giving messages indicating, significant sex effects, effectiveness, AIDS,

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journal adolescence 1996 19 321 332 rules game teenagers communicating sex doreen rosenthal rachel peart present study examined rules 16 year olds n 191 guide behaviours sexual encounter boys girls asked social rules giving messages indicating wish sex strategies encouraging avoiding sex acceptability usefulness strategies asked strategies variety rules endorsed young people found easier encourage discourage sex differences boys girls understanding rules relationships acceptability usefulness actual strategy varied gender avoidance strategies relationships moderate stronger girls patterns relationships strong encouragement strategies equally boys girls findings discussed context divergence young people rhetoric equality lived reality 1996 association professionals services adolescents introduction adolescence time heightened sexual risk young people experimenting new found sexuality inexperienced communicating sexual needs desires partner concerns adolescents vulnerability hiv aids stds evidence considerable sexual violence women make vital learn difficulties young people negotiating sex factors lead coercion sexual partner holland et al 1991a gavey 1992 present study focussed rules young people consider operating sexual encounter aim determine perceived norms communicating message boy girl like sex proceed encourage discourage sexual encounter negotiating encounter complex difficult potential result outcomes distressing actually harmful young women difficulty communication case young person wants engage safe unsafe sex unable broach subject condom partner considerable evidence young people male female difficult communicate effectively condom sexual encounter crawford et al 1990 rosenthal et al 1991 inability significant predictor unsafe sexual behaviour boldero et al 1992 difficulties communicating partner sexual encounter desired young men receive messages reprint requests correspondence addressed professor d rosenthal centre study sexually transmissible diseases la trobe university locked bag 12 carlton south australia 3053 0140 1971 96 04032112 18 00 0 1996 association professionals services adolescents 322 d rosenthal r peart female partners sending misinterpret deliberately messages hear problems communication sex failures give clear message misperceptions meaning lead coercive behaviour sexual partner muelhenhard linton 1987 felty et al 1991 addition coercion result deliberate disregard adequately communicated message subtleties sexual negotiation examined qualitative work notably pressure resistance holland colleagues holland et al 1991a b 1992 literature sexual coercion limited entirely studies date rape college students see berkowitz 1992 review literature know little experiences coercion group group young people literature demonstrates unwanted sex infrequent occurrence e g muehlenhard 1988 erikson rapkin 1991 muehlenhard et al 1991 richardson hammock 1991 suffers number serious limitations first studies atheoretical duplicative nature rely gross manipulations situational behavioural variables unrealistic written case scenarios shotland goldstein 1992 found college students believed resisting woman rape scenario sex likely label act rape couple intercourse ten times compared second date rape conceptualised representing coercive behaviour defining coercion manner fails reflect complexity behaviours embodied construct instance coercion regarded continuum gentle persuasion end physical rape end date rape limits range situations unwanted sexual behaviour occur third role clarity communications sexual events addressed knowing young women unwanted sex fails inform effectively communicated desire sex understanding different types communication elicit different forms coercive behaviour nature relationship two studies date rape sampled college students population important subset populations need study particular need research younger adolescents sexual vulnerability younger boys girls difficulty communicating sex sensitive partners needs likely respond immediate desires clear expectations sexual practices strongly gender determined moore rosenthal 1993 ways sexuality constructed sexual scripts gagnon simon 1973 guide young people sexual lives dependent sexual socialisation sources parents peers societal institutions results beliefs behaviours considered appropriate boys girls men women based gender stereotypes expect rules guide sexual interactions different boys girls relatively early age sexual experience follows coercive practices perceptions surrounding practices different gender bases present study designed explore subtle forms sexual coercion young heterosexuals particular focus young men women behaviours beliefs influenced understandings heterosexuality relation gendered expectations male sexual aggression female submissiveness doing 323 teenagers communicating sex concerned examination ways young people negotiation sex determined gendered understandings normative behaviours holland et al 1991a moore rosenthal 1993 clearly communication desirability sexual encounter difference coercion consent predicated clear understanding rules failures communication coercion occurs different behavioural norms boys girls perceived different present study examined rules young people guide behaviours encouraging discouraging sex addition addressed questions rules perceived similarly young people irrespective gender rules different boys girls method subjects sample consisted 191 young people 98 males 93 females aged 15 17 years mean age 16 3 years 81 living parents majority sample 71 school sample predominantly working class respondents 87 born australia remainder 10 5 asian born european english speaking descent measures respondents administered questionnaire addressed issues questions worded heterosexuality assumed responses refer different sex partners cases items wording chosen discussions young people age backgrounds respondents subsequent pilot testing focus groups confirmed acceptability understanding relevance items giving message respondents list 18 actions see table 1 instructions social groups special rules group boy met sexually interested actions give message like sex person items rated four point scale 1 2 possibly 3 4 definitely task repeated words girl substituted boy avoiding unwanted sex respondents rated 13 items see table 2 four point scale 1 acceptable 2 barely acceptable 3 quite acceptable 4 perfectly acceptable accordance instructions meet party re interested person agree go walk re interested sexual encounter don t go sex rate acceptable group strategies actions prevent sex happening procedure respondents rated items terms useful thought strategies actions preventing sex occurring asked please indicate strategies 324 d rosenthal r peart actions done prevent go respondents strategy complete section encouraging sex manner respondents rated acceptability usefulness 14 items see table 3 means encouraging sex occur instructions follows meet party re interested agree go walk decide interested sex rate acceptable group strategies actions try make sex happen asked tactics encourage sex procedure clearance university ethics committee respondents recruited youth workers locations metropolitan melbourne country second author administered questionnaire groups volunteer respondents location signed informed consent obtained respondents prior administration questionnaire completed anonymously results results presented three sets questions separately analyses 0 01 giving message majority respondents reported clearest messages explicitly allowed opportunity sex occur going away weekend going bedroom person explicit opportunistic messages parking car house attracted majority support activities described socialising likely regarded leading sex substantial minority case activities considered giving message carrying condoms apparently suggestive message girls boys drunk stoned oneself likely regarded indicating wish sex drunk stoned partner appeared differences rules boys girls male female respondents interpretations rules two factor sex rules girls boys analyses variance revealed significant effects sex respondents significant interactions sex respondents sex protagonist significant sex protagonist effects occurred item 10 boy going girl party perceived likely imply sexual message converse girls m 2 26 boys m 2 44 f 1182 7 45 p 0 007 item 14 wearing tight revealing clothes girls gave stronger sexual message behaviour boys girls m 2 45 boys m 2 00 f 1182 21 75 p 0 000 avoiding unwanted sex percentages respondents believed strategy quite perfectly acceptable useful shown table 2 325 teenagers communicating sex percentages strategy total sample 134 58 males reported strategy avoid unwanted sex strategies regarded acceptable half sample table 1 giving message percentage respondents replying definitely item situation boy wants sex girl wants sex boys girls boys girls 1 going person doesn t know 26 3 32 7 30 8 30 1 2 allowing person pay dinner cinema 26 0 27 3 27 2 32 6 3 going person paying oneself 20 2 12 2 12 0 15 2 4 going drive person car 41 4 49 0 37 0 52 7 5 parking person car 59 6 66 3 65 6 73 2 6 meeting person parents 41 9 47 0 35 5 38 7 7 going away weekend person 78 8 80 6 78 5 77 1 8 going person 61 6 52 0 54 3 44 1 9 seen person carrying condoms 38 4 53 0 51 7 44 1 10 going person party 56 0 41 3 41 9 39 8 11 going bedroom person party 80 6 82 4 73 1 73 1 12 drinking getting stoned 36 4 37 8 34 8 29 1 13 going person drunk stoned 49 5 38 8 44 1 37 7 14 wearing tight revealing clothes 34 3 30 6 50 6 42 4 15 going person adult supervision 51 0 40 8 47 8 41 3 16 going person away crowd 58 2 44 3 49 0 51 1 17 house person 71 7 63 9 62 4 68 8 18 going person re lot older 48 5 53 6 47 9 51 6 table 2 percentage respondents reported avoidance strategies quite perfectly acceptable useful strategy strategy acceptable useful boys girls boys girls boys girls state rules beginning 38 8 74 2 62 5 76 1 44 8 55 3 tell clearly gone far 73 4 93 5 74 7 85 9 55 2 82 9 leave situation 44 9 61 9 54 7 64 1 52 7 51 3 make excuse beginning 33 3 44 6 38 3 46 8 46 6 52 0 stop event excuse 39 1 47 4 43 8 42 4 62 1 72 4 give non verbal cues 54 7 64 2 48 4 60 9 54 4 77 6 delaying tactics 48 5 38 7 52 2 34 1 71 4 73 3 overwhelmed 20 6 17 3 40 0 23 9 29 3 17 1 joke 36 7 36 9 34 3 28 3 56 9 47 4 appeal good nature 48 9 40 8 44 2 34 8 50 9 57 9 distract partner 51 0 65 6 40 0 44 6 66 1 67 1 hope won t go far 38 2 29 0 25 8 24 2 56 9 60 5 talk boy girl 23 2 33 7 34 0 36 3 53 4 46 1 326 d rosenthal r peart direct strategies attracting greater support girls analysis variance revealed significant sex effects stating rules start boys m 2 15 girls m 3 15 f 1179 49 62 p 0 000 telling person gone far boys m 3 10 girls m 3 67 f 1179 23 96 p 0 000 leave situation boys m 2 37 girls m 2 81 f 1179 6 62 p 0 01 give non verbal signals gone far boys m 2 56 girls m 3 01 f 1179 8 9 p 0 003 cases girls likely boys perceive strategies acceptable similarly strategies reported useful majority respondents tended direct ways avoiding sex strategy stating rules clearly start significant effect sex respondent girls likely boys consider useful strategy boys m 2 69 girls m 3 15 f 1179 8 86 p 0 003 majority boys reported 10 strategies avoid sex majority girls actual assessed responses c 2 analyses examine associations gender strategy significant associations two strategies telling person gone far c 2 12 25 p 0 0005 giving non verbal signals gone far c 2 8 04 p 0 004 cases girls likely strategy boys relationship perceived acceptability usefulness actual avoidance strategies strategy pearson correlations calculated determine relationships acceptability usefulness associations acceptability actual actual perceived usefulness examined c 2 analyses shown table 3 interesting features emerge table statistically significant table 3 relationships acceptability usefulness actual avoidance strategies boys girls separately strategy accept useful 1 accept 2 useful 2 boys girls boys girls boys girls state rules beginning 0 46 0 51 5 36 17 18 2 00 10 24 tell clearly gone far 0 54 0 39 5 04 9 68 5 34 7 40 leave situation 0 21 0 45 10 54 4 86 4 06 10 80 make excuse beginning 0 51 0 49 6 17 11 23 1 54 7 02 stop event excuse 0 33 0 38 10 29 6 86 1 32 15 38 give non verbal cues 0 28 0 54 2 18 8 26 3 20 2 99 delaying tactics 0 38 0 58 5 99 12 69 9 14 8 90 overwhelmed cry 0 18 0 50 6 61 39 81 1 71 11 43 joke 0 53 0 55 13 56 16 50 6 90 17 10 appeal good nature 0 43 0 49 0 62 5 68 5 02 9 32 distract partner 0 26 0 46 5 69 34 42 1 26 3 40 hope won t go far 0 44 0 53 3 36 8 48 8 46 11 61 talk boy girl 0 43 0 52 8 23 19 50 12 52 19 11 1 pearson correlations 2 values c 2 p 0 01 p 0 001 327 teenagers communicating sex moderate correlations acceptability usefulness strategies girls boys associations acceptability strategy strategy considerably stronger girls boys higher acceptability significantly associated greater eight 13 items girls three boys pattern repeated association reported usefulness actual boys reporting girls seven significant associations encouraging wanted sex percentages respondents believed strategy encouraging sex quite perfectly acceptable useful shown table 4 percentages strategy total sample 135 75 males reported strategy encourage sex occur strategies regarded acceptable majority boys girls attracting high levels support analysis variance revealed significant sex effects strategies let happen boys m 2 90 girls m 2 32 f 1177 13 15 p 0 000 mention contraception boys m 2 56 girls m 2 98 f 1177 6 28 p 0 01 case boys likely girls perceive strategy acceptable latter converse true picture emerged reports usefulness strategies significant sex effects four strategies terms perceived usefulness produce condom boys m 2 98 girls m 3 41 f 1178 8 48 p 0 004 talk dirty partner boys m 2 08 girls m 2 71 f 1178 14 32 p 0 000 undress boys m 2 42 girls m 2 84 f 1178 5 84 p 0 01 mention contraception boys m 2 61 girls m 3 07 f 1178 7 84 p 0 006 cases girls reported strategy useful boys strategies majority boys girls universally significant association gender strategy case talk dirty girls likely boys strategy c 2 5 99 p 0 01 table 4 percentage respondents reported encouragement strategies quite perfectly acceptable useful strategy strategy acceptable useful boys girls boys girls boys girls say sex start 29 3 18 3 41 6 58 4 47 3 39 0 say sex happens 55 6 46 0 56 0 57 7 60 3 59 3 let happen 65 0 48 9 54 0 56 1 77 0 58 6 increase physical contact 84 9 74 5 83 8 85 7 94 7 93 3 guide increasing contact 76 3 76 6 75 0 79 6 86 7 84 7 excite partner 85 9 78 6 85 2 84 6 97 3 98 2 don t stop partner 83 7 83 7 82 2 87 8 94 7 93 2 respond sexual moves 90 0 91 8 87 9 91 8 93 3 98 3 suggest quiet place 87 9 91 8 81 8 89 8 89 2 87 9 produce condom 73 5 76 5 69 0 83 5 73 3 66 7 talk dirty 29 6 44 9 37 7 54 6 46 7 67 8 undress 43 9 41 8 44 0 61 8 57 3 66 1 mention contraception 54 6 70 4 54 1 74 5 63 5 79 7 undress partner 71 7 65 0 72 0 73 2 78 4 84 7 328 d rosenthal r peart relationships perceived acceptability usefulness actual encouragement strategies strategy pearson correlations calculated determine relationships acceptability usefulness associations acceptability actual actual perceived usefulness examined c 2 analyses shown table 5 statistically significant moderately high correlations acceptability usefulness strategies boys girls strong associations acceptability strategy strategy half items higher acceptability significantly associated greater eight 13 items girls seven boys six items reported usefulness actual significantly associated boys girls association reported usefulness actual significant nine items boys six items girls five items common general relationship usefulness stronger boys girls discussion appears study rules game varied surprisingly clearest messages sexual desire direct explicit direct messages ones highest approval ratings considered useful avoiding unwanted sex avoiding unwanted sex appeared difficult area young people clearly acceptable useful strategies emerging greater consensus boys girls table 5 relationships acceptability usefulness actual encouragement strategies boys girls separately strategy accept useful 1 accept 2 useful 2 boys girls boys girls boys girls say sex start 0 38 0 44 6 11 3 01 6 74 0 35 say sex happens 0 51 0 59 5 16 15 42 19 61 7 05 let happen 0 54 0 44 22 02 21 58 19 45 11 95 increase physical contact 0 52 0 74 6 05 10 21 24 56 21 71 guide increasing contact 0 57 0 45 7 55 4 76 1 29 0 29 excite partner 0 65 0 67 47 98 0 69 36 47 3 45 don t stop partner 0 35 0 61 25 18 31 80 3 41 21 75 respond sexual moves 0 51 0 60 8 99 2 98 14 67 28 49 suggest quiet place 0 48 0 44 4 00 0 53 6 51 6 88 produce condom 0 64 0 76 20 30 13 13 26 16 8 04 talk dirty 0 54 0 58 15 52 21 86 22 38 13 70 undress 0 55 0 58 27 15 12 01 27 99 4 23 mention contraception 0 75 0 73 15 09 22 03 26 19 15 02 undress partner 0 70 0 72 6 55 4 65 10 43 8 76 1 pearson correlations 2 values c 2 p 0 01 p 0 001 329 teenagers communicating sex encourage sex wide range non verbal strategies deemed acceptable useful large majority respondents rules getting sex appear clearcut knowing avoid sex strategies regarded favourably indirect finding unexpected experience encouraging sex subtly non verbal cues fraught potential hazards attempts ward unwanted sex particular interest finding rules boys girls messages strategies regarded acceptable useful perceived equally applicable sexes finding contrasted gender differences found investigations rape supportive beliefs college students united states interest finding girls experienced need wish avoid sex half boys sample reported strategy avoid unwanted sex young girls four fifths sample reported experience appears sexual coercion perpetrated young men noted unable determine data girls boys reported unwanted sex engaged sexual activity opposite sex peers instances communication desires appeared gender specific girls reported avoidance strategies particular gave direct explicit messages sex acceptable boys strategies useful expected young women likely male peers experience saying confidence doing rosenthal et al 1991 regarded appropriate acceptable girls avoid sex boys moore rosenthal 1993 surprisingly strategies gender differences occurred beliefs encouraging sex girls boys endorsed useful bolder direct strategies talking dirty partner undressing producing condom suggests girls learned lessons communicating sexual needs better boys alternatively strategies effective girls boys boys learned direct sexual domain produce positive pay turning actual encouragement avoidance strategies young people reported strategy reports encouragement sex attempts avoid interesting instances strategies regarded relatively unacceptable useful substantial numbers young people boys attempts avoid sex strategies tended indirect talking boy girl attempting joke situation clearly young people found easier encourage discourage sex encouraging strategies half respondents specifically indirect non verbal practised respondents sex differences expected girls boys experience preventing unwanted sex encouraging 80 young girls significantly male peers reported direct explicit strategy telling partners gone far young boys girls interpretations rules initiating 330 d rosenthal r peart avoiding sex relationships acceptability usefulness actual revealed interesting patterns gender girls significant moderately high relationship acceptability utility avoidance strategies relationship significant nine cases boys pattern repeated associations acceptability actual strategies perceived usefulness causal relationships determined data question links three dimensions stronger girls needs addressed possible girls boys acceptability criterion determining strategy judgments usefulness strategy based actual causal links need tested longitudinal study event presence significant link strategy perceived usefulness three acceptability boys puzzling left believe boys strategy independent acceptability course reflect opportunistic ill considered approach avoiding sex similarly boys strategies considering likely usefulness hope proposition strategy yields inconsistent outcomes terms effectiveness whichever correct interpretation young girls integrated better attitudinal behavioural aspects avoiding sex turn encouraging sex occur different picture emerges relationships three elements consistent boys girls acceptability usefulness significantly correlated 14 strategies associations strategy acceptability usefulness strong significant half strategies relate higher endorsement practice encouraging sex rules avoiding sex large number rules encouraging sex acceptable perceived useful boys girls closer links usefulness strategy encouraging discouraging sex relate greater clarity outcomes effectiveness strategy encouraging sex clear effective strategies lead positive outcome sex occurring hand strategy avoiding sex effective sex occurs number associated negative outcomes occur embarrassment guilt labelled frigid worse results tell sexual worlds young boys girls appears rules orchestrating sexual encounters general apply equally girls boys evidence study young girls beliefs consistent behaviour women traditionally assigned task avoiding sex acceptable act desires study young girls adopt direct explicit strategies avoiding sex substantial numbers variety strategies encourage sex occur cases girls active role initiating sex third reported told partner wanted sex beginning encounter young girls seeing beginnings true gender equality sexual negotiations regard breaking gender stereotypes critical task making negotiations heterosex equitable girls appear good news contrast findings demonstrate young girls frequently unwanted sex russell 1984 koss et al 1987 studies conclude dynamics sexual coercion leave little room negotiation 331 teenagers communicating sex girls peart et al 1995 little cause sanguine young people live liberal political climate gender equality acceptable norm unreasonable girls taken rhetoric equality construction rules equal gender necessarily consistent lived experience holland et al 1991b 1992 peart et al 1995 stewart 1995 need young people communicate sexual needs desires identified key ingredient maintaining sexual health study addressed key aspect process understanding rules underpin sexual negotiations present study suggests optimistic conclusion young people accept strategies go gender roles young people experience sexual coercion peart et al 1995 clearly gender roles transgressed subverted young people operate socially prescribed rules clearer highlights complex nature communication sexual domain perceived strategies communication necessarily reflect experiences practices different moments different contexts providing young people sex education need ensure rules understood young people sexes better encourage boys girls accept rules direct explicit communications clear open misinterpretation acknowledgements study funded grants australian research council la trobe university faculty health sciences authors wish thank ms anne mitchell insights preparation questionnaire youth workers young people participated study references berkowitz 1992 college men perpetrators acquaintance rape sexual assault review recent research journal american college health 40 175 181 boldero j m moore m rosenthal d 1992 intention context safe sex australian adolescents response aids journal applied social psychology 22 1357 1397 crawford j turtle m kippax 1990 student favoured strategies aids prevention strategies australian journal psychology 42 123 138 erikson p i rapkin j 1991 unwanted sexual experiences middle high school youth journal adolescent health 12 319 325 feltey k m ainslie j j geib 1991 sexual coercion attitudes high schools students influence gender rape education youth 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